Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Go to Sleep You Little Babe

When  expecting Ella, our Doula loaned us a book. We read it and thought ‘ha! This’ll be easy.” – then we had a baby.

It was pretty easy. But we didn’t follow the book’s advice for more than a week. The book relied on crying to let the parents know what the baby needed. But we usually knew Ella needed something long before she cried. In fact most babies give cues to their needs long before they cry. Why ignore our baby for fifteen minutes to an hour waiting for her to cry, when we could just run throughout the most likely culprits: hunger, needing a fresh bum, too hot/cold, sleepy, wanting to snuggle, wanting to be put down? It might take fifteen minutes to run through all of those possibilities in the beginning, but a baby’s a smart creature (and most parents are too) and soon baby and parents develop other tells that communicate those needs quickly.

With each of our babies, from birth until about twenty months, the two most important needs have been sleeping and eating. Ultimately I believe those are the two most important needs of all babies.

Ella slept in a crib on occasion. Not often, mind, but it did happen. She also slept in the stroller, sling, wrap, carseat, and on daddy’s chest once or twice. Once her nap routine was established (about 2 mos old) we were careful to protect that time. We were respectful of her sleep and didn’t make extra noise. Just as we’d expect others to be respectful of us while we slept. For Ella if we were out and about, moving, she’d sleep. No matter what. If she were cuddled against our chest, she’d sleep through almost anything. However, if she were in her crib, or on our bed she’d awaken and need lots of support to fall back to sleep.

We were told many times over that it was important to teach a baby to sleep through noises. We were told we should go out of our way to make noise while she slept. Certain people were rude enough to go out of their way to make noise when they came over. All in an effort to teach her to slept through noise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work that way. Making noise doesn’t teach a baby to sleep through anything, it just wakes the baby. Oh certainly some babies may sleep through it, some may ‘learn’, but mostly all that happens is a baby becomes more and more tired. And the parents become more and more tired and upset.

When Ella was about 6 weeks old, she became sick. We didn’t realize just how sick until she was around two, but because she was sick, she nursed. A lot. We co-slept. This meant buying a firmer mattress, increasing the overnight heat in the house so we only had one lightweight top-sheet on the bed. We removed the extra blankets and pillows, and bought a bed closer to the ground (though we’ve only ever had someone fall off the bed while asleep once – and that wasn’t a baby : ) . All the ‘rules’ for putting a baby to sleep in the crib applied, but she was in our bed. Next to me only, not daddy. At first I didn’t sleep that much, I was very concerned about rolling on her. But every time she moved or I moved, I woke up.

Then Agatha came along. Things were a bit more difficult. 3.5mm was maximum distance she could be away from me. However after the rough go we’d had with Ella nursing non-stop in the bed (she was very malnourished due to undiagnosed celiac’s disease), we were determined not to co-sleep. So the first 2 nights after Agatha was born I rocked her to sleep, and faithfully tried to get her into the crib. For two nights and days I slept in the chair with a baby cuddled against my chest. On the third day I realized how ridiculous I was being and Agatha came to bed with us as well. She’s 3.5 and still in my bed, and I’m happy with her there. She sleeps great, and so do I. Though occasionally I’d appreciate it if she didn’t feel the need to sleep on my head :p

We were careful to protect the girls’ sleep. When they napped or went to bed for the night we tried to keep the noises to a minimum. Partly for our sanity, the longer they slept, the happier they were and the more time Ryan and I had to ourselves. But also knowing that babies who develop good sleep habits by sleeping in a dark, quiet environment are more likely to be children with good sleep habits*, and then adults with good sleep habits who awake feeling refreshed. There was no reason for us to make noise. They were sleeping and as everyone knows it’s best to let sleeping babies lie.

*Note that you can’t force a baby/child to sleep, but rather create an environment conducive to sleep and see if the baby will actually accept your offer. Especially if you have a baby that has difficulty falling asleep it’s important to protect that sleep. If that means whispering from the hours of 10AM until noon everyday for two years, then do it. A rested child is a lot more fun to be around : )

Cordelia’s been a different baby from the other two. She fights sleep more than the others, but is more likely to sleep on her own. We still co-sleep, but we suspect the transition to night weaning will be easier, shorter than with the other two. Of course we have a few months or so before that’s likely to happen (assuming same course as the two big girls). Cordelia’s put herself to sleep more than the others, she doesn’t nurse to sleep very often, things are different. But we still protect her sleep. While she naps the girls are moved to a different level of the house if they want to be noisy. The dog is politely told to be quiet, or go in his kennel (on a different level of the house).

It has never been an inconvenience for us to respect our children’s needs. At 3.5 and 5 our big girls are great sleepers. They go to bed on their own, and sleep through twelve hours. They don’t fight bedtime, they have a very positive relationship with sleep. Even if they awoke many times in the night it’d be okay. The important thing for us is the positive feeling they associate with sleep. It isn’t a stressful event where they plead to stay awake and we say ‘no’. Instead if they wanted to stay awake, we’d say ‘sure’. Of course most nights they ask to go to bed between 6 and 8 depending on how busy our week’s been.

Sleep is such a touchy topic. A baby is ben and a week later everyone wants to know if she’s sleeping through the night. Hate to break it to you folks, but 5 hours is sleeping through the night and it isn’t normal or safe for ANY baby to sleep through the night until 6 mos of age – and not until 2-3 years before it’s expected they’ll sleep longer than that without getting up. So if your 3 yr old gets up once a night, count yourself lucky – many 3 year olds get up 3 or more times a night. And if your one year old gets up twice, she’s doing pretty good. I’m very lucky. I don’t know how many times my 1 yr old gets up, as a breastfeeding, co-sleeping mama my baby latches on and off without waking me.*

*Unless it’s after 5AM, then it’s too close to wake up time anyhow – and then I’m grumpy.  


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We’re Hear To Help You…Fail?

In Alberta, when a woman has a baby, a healthy beginnings nurse visits within twenty-four hours of the woman coming home. The nurse checks to be sure mom is healing and baby is feeding well and eliminating appropriately. In the first week of life a nurse calls and follows-up to be sure everything is going okay. That mom has no signs of infection and that baby is still feeding well, has no signs of illness or infection. At two to three weeks of age a nurse will again call to be sure everything is going well. For the first two months of life there is a dedicated hotline available for new parents to call with questions or concerns about mom or baby.

When the nurses visit they answer any question the family has about caring for a new baby or helping mom heal. Some parents may need help learning to diaper, how to bathe, or other questions about the physical care of a baby. Some moms may need help learning to breastfeed. Some parents may have questions about sleep or even about how often to pick up a baby.

For many parents these nurses are the first people to tell them how to parent.

Unfortunately for some parents, these nurses also set them up for failure. Failure to successfully breastfeed and failure to confidently parent.

Over the course of three babies I’ve had my fair share of these nurses and so far I’ve only met one that didn’t outright tell me I couldn’t breastfeed, or that what I was doing as a parent was wrong. For the purpose of this post I’m only going to mention my experience with the nurses this week.

When our new bundle, Cordelia Rose, was roughly eighteen hours old the nurse called and made the appointment to come to our house that afternoon. The nurse came, did her assessment, asked if I had questions and left. She didn’t indicate that I couldn’t breastfed, she also never said anything about how we parent.

Two days later I had a concern so I called the hotline number and spoke with a nurse. She asked many questions including how much Cordelia weighed, 8lbs 7oz. She then went on to tell me I needed to figure out what I was going to do, because a big baby like that would have a big appetite and by three months I wouldn’t be able to produce enough to keep up with her.

Obviously she doesn’t realize that a mom’s supply meets her baby’s demand and unless there is an underlying concern a mother capable of feeding an 8lbs newborn will be capable of feeding the same baby at three months even if the baby weights 20+lbs. I’ve successfully breastfeed two babies. I know I don’t need to worry. I also know how the body works so I know that my body will continue to meet the demands of my baby whether she’s 8lbs, 20lbs, or 35lbs.

Many new parents don’t know how the body works, they also don’t know they can successfully breastfeed. If a new mom were told she needed a backup plan because her body wouldn’t be able to keep up, then she’d likely stop breastfeeding at one of the first growth spurts. To her it might seem like her baby wasn’t getting enough, when in fact the more frequent nursing is the baby’s way of increasing the milk supply and doesn’t indicate a concern.

The next day a different nurse called for the one week follow-up. She asked a few questions regarding eating, elimination, cord care and sleep. I explained that Cordelia  nursed roughly every hour and a half, but since my milk had come in and she’d had a good feed she was actually taking her first 2.5 hour nap. The nurse then told me that it wasn’t healthy to let a baby sleep that long and we had to wake her and feed her. I was told all newborns needed to nurse every 2-3 hours around the clock.

In essence this information is correct. However, I already told her how often Cordelia nursed all night and during the morning. A longer nap wasn’t a concern. She had more than enough wet diapers for the day, she was pooping, and she was actively sucking while at the breast. The nurse could have used the moment to reinforce the importance of adequate intake by explaining overall how much a baby should feed in a twenty-four hour period. She could have mentioned that sometimes a sleepy baby doesn’t mean a full baby and then explain how to tell the difference. Instead she told a new mother that what I was doing wasn’t good and I had to change what I was doing, or my baby would suffer. I have enough knowledge and enough experience to know that what my baby was doing was okay. I also know that I don’t have a sleepy baby. I have an alert baby, who until that point only took cat naps.

However, many new moms don’t know how to tell the difference between a normal longer nap and a long period of sleep that would be a concern. If I were one of those moms, that nurse would have missed an important teaching moment. Instead of giving information that could be used to help the mother judge if a new situation was okay, the nurse took the power away from the mother by giving a rule that did not allow variance.

A full baby either won’t nurse, or will spit out the milk. But a sleepy baby won’t nurse, even if hungry. A sick baby might not nurse. A sick baby might spit. The full and proper information would allow a mother to know if her baby were full and sleeping, or sleepy but needing to awaken, or if baby were sick.

These nurses provide a valuable service, however for one reason or another many of them either provide inadequate information, or make uninformed comments that inhibit, rather than reinforce, breastfeeding and other positive parenting practices. It bothers me to think of all the things I’ve been told by these healthy beginnings nurses that do not foster a healthy beginning at all.


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